The Truth about Women's Specific Mountain Bikes

The Truth about Women's Specific Mountain Bikes

October 08, 2020

Got a hand-me-down bike? We doubt it's doing you any favors: the tech will likely be outdated, and it would have been bought for someone else's body. Even if you're an expert shredder, your skills may have outgrown your current ride. Either way, now could be a good time to upgrade your wheels, as bike shops often look to get rid of current model year inventory in the fall and winter.

Back in the 80s, mountain biking was in its infancy. If you needed a new bike, your choices were simple. There weren't any. Women's specific mountain bikes didn't exist. Your only option would have been some version of a men's bike.

The arrival of women's mountain bikes added a whole new layer of options. The bonus was that companies making bikes for ladies have helped encourage more women to feel included and at home in the world of MTB.

Nowadays, female riders have a dizzying array of bikes to choose from, specially designed for the female physique. With these women-specific options added to the men's and unisex bikes available, mountain bike riders of every shape and size can get that all-important perfect fit.

Why do we need women's specific mountain bikes?

Women's bikes are no longer a "shrink it and pink it" marketing ploy. On average, women are shorter, lighter, and have a different leg to torso ratio than men. Women-specific bikes address these fundamental differences.

Whether you're 5'9" and 180 pounds or 4'11" and 95 pounds, the bike that fits you best could be a women’s mountain bike, a men's bike, or a unisex option.

Not so long ago, men's and unisex mountain bike frames came in S, M, and L. Now, most manufacturers have included XS and XL in their ranges. With women's mountain bikes added in, size options have increased even further.

choosing a womens mens or unisex mountain bike

Image link: Photo by Nick Rickert on Unsplash

The reality is that all bikes are essentially unisex bikes. The difference between "women's bikes" and "men's bikes" comes down to a difference in size and fit. For a small woman, a women's bike is often ideal, but it could also suit smaller, shorter men or teens.

The real reason mountain bikes have different rides is down to frame geometry. A frame with women's specific geometry has less distance between the bike seat and the top of the frame.

Experts and professional riders will tell you the key element of a great bike is a great fit. The emphasis should be on fit and ride comfort first.

Key features of womens mountain bikes

On average, women are usually shorter than men. Because of this, they tend to have comparatively shorter torsos and longer legs, along with narrower shoulders and smaller hands. The best women's specific mountain bikes consider these differences in body shape and have features that maximize ride comfort and enjoyment for their riders.

Women-specific frames

It's hard to find a frame that's small enough when you're extremely petite. Women's specific bikes give small women the benefits of a smaller frame and a shorter top tube.

Frame weight is also a big deal for women. Riding a lighter bike gives you a feeling of better control, which builds your confidence. To keep the frame weight down, women's bikes will often use thinner tubes and lighter materials.

When you choose a frame, you should be able to straddle it reasonably easily, placing your feet flat on either side.

Women's mountain bikes have different seats

Well, obviously. Seats for guys are made to fit guys; they're narrower. Women's-specific saddles are specially designed for the female anatomy. Ladies' seats are made to fit our sitting bones and make a massive difference to the comfort factor.

Handlebars are narrower

Women's-specific bikes tend to have slightly narrower handlebars because women's shoulders are narrower than men's. And apart from the handlebars being shorter in length, they may be smaller in diameter. The idea is that a woman can hold the handlebars comfortably without having to overreach.

If you're not comfortable, test different width handlebars before you decide. Some MTB riders find that wider handlebars give them superior stability and better handling.

Shorter-reach brake levers to better fit a women's grip

Women sometimes battle to reach the brakes on an otherwise suitable bike. Shorter-reach brake levers can be a game-changer for ladies with small hands.

Shorter stem

The piece that connects the frame to the handlebar is called the stem. Adjusting the fit for women's shorter arms and shorter torsos often calls for a shorter stem.

What's with the shorter crank arms?

When very short riders buy a women's mountain bike, this benefit is hardly ever mentioned. And yet the shorter crank arm is arguably the most crucial feature of a womens-specific mountain bike. Bikes, regardless of frame size, come with standard size cranks. When crank arms are too long, knee pain and other issues may follow.

Components can be swapped out for the perfect fit

Your perfect bike might be women's-specific or not. Test drive women's and unisex bikes before you make a decision. The configuration is only a starting point. For example, adding a women's saddle or narrower handlebars can customize a unisex bike just for you.

Think for your future self!

If you're in the market for a new rig, think about getting a bike to serve your future self. Whatever your skill level, where you are going to be next month or next year? A better-quality bike will never hamper your progress and may even speed it up.

Got the bike? Now find the gear

Just as the best bike is the bike that fits your body, the best gear is gear that fits your needs and your style. Nowhere has the "shrink it and pink it" mentality been more evident than in women's bike-specific clothing. But that's all changed! Now you can count on well-designed gear and the variety you've been looking for. See Revel Rider's range of female-specific MTB apparel here, created by women who ride.

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